June 8, 1987: Xem

Note: Xem Ngyuen was my roommate at Del Norte before Backcountry. He was an alternate Backcountry selection who joined us in Wawona a few weeks into the season as a replacement for somebody who left the crew. Then he was my tentmate, as well!

Xem got a couple of letters from home today—one from his mom & uncle and one from his sister. They’re all still living in Viet Nam. I found out a little more about Xem’s story.

I already knew he was a boat person in ’79, got picked up by a Royal Navy ship, and spent months in a refugee camp in Singapore before coming to the United States.

When I asked him what his family had to say in their letters, he went through the whole things and translated them for me, and filled me in on some things.

He sends his whole check to his family in Viet Nam. That’s why he’s always broke. Most of the time they don’t get through because of corruption in the Vietnamese postal system (just like the entire Vietnamese government), but it gets through often enough for him to keep sending them. The Vietnamese people apparently don’t get paid in money in exchange for labor. They get five pounds of rice per person per month and that’s it. I hope Hanoi Jane and her Comsymp hubby Tom Hayden are proud. Bastards.

Xem’s dad is dead. Killed in ’72 by VC. His older sister and brother are dead, too. If Xem ever goes back to Viet Nam with the communists in power, he’ll be dead, too.

He was very serious when he was telling me this, telling me in hushed tones. He started to get glassy-eyed when he was telling me about his folks back in Nam. He said sometimes he cries about it. He said that sometimes at Del Norte he would cry, but he never let me know before.

It makes me look at my life and see how well I’ve actually had it.

Categories: Backcountry, CCC, Yosemite | Leave a comment

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